Texas tug captain falls to his death from ladder in internal stairwell

A tugboat captain was killed in a fall from a ladder aboard his vessel in the Houston Ship Channel, authorities said. An autopsy revealed that he had taken two prescription drugs that cause unsteadiness.

Charles Langston Cloudy, 54, died when he fell about 7 feet from an internal stairwell down to the galley of Jane L, the Harris County Medical Examiner said. The accident happened at about 2100 on Oct. 8, 2009, at a dock in Channelview.

Cloudy, a licensed master of towing vessels, was off watch at the time. Witnesses had seen him on the 57-foot vessel’s second level moments before his body was discovered face-down on the galley level with catastrophic injuries to his head.

“The crew arrived back into the bay to dock the tugboat … and they were waiting on a barge to go back out,†the medical examiner’s investigator wrote. Cloudy “had climbed up the inner stairwell to the bunk level.â€

One of the four crewmen saw Cloudy and “thought (he) was going to his bunk to read a book,†the investigator’s report stated. Instead, five minutes later, he noticed Cloudy “lying prone on the floor of the galley with blood around his head … next to a metal ladder that was attached to the wall.â€

Cloudy, of Hemphill, Texas, had been an employee of Houston-based Hard’s Marine Service Ltd. for 15 years. A Hard’s Marine official emphasized that its crews are instructed to “face the stairs when climbing up or down the stairs,†according to the investigator’s report. Cloudy was wearing sneakers.

The autopsy showed that Cloudy had at least two prescription drugs in his system. One was alprazolam, a treatment for depression-related anxiety and panic attacks known by the brand name Xanax. The other was hydrocodone, an opiate-based cough suppressant sometimes known as Vicodin. Each can cause dizziness, sleepiness and unsteadiness.

Cloudy also possessed in his bunk the prescription medications enalapril maleate, which treats high blood pressure, the cardiovascular drug atenolol and the cholesterol medicine simvastatin, known as Zocor. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 235 pounds. With a body mass index of 35.7, he qualified as medically obese.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the casualty, said Lt. j.g. Denny Ernster, a spokesman for Sector Houston-Galveston. Ernster would not disclose the year of Cloudy’s last license renewal or which medical conditions and drugs Cloudy’s doctor listed at that time. He also declined to comment on whether the Coast Guard should have renewed the license.

The cause of death was blunt trauma to the head with skull fractures and brain injuries. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff